A Virginia National Guard grading project at Patriot Centre at Beaver Creek Industrial Park is a boon to both Henry County and the guard, according to County Administrator Tim Hall.
More than 120 soldiers from Fort Pickett’s 180th Engineer Company are working at the industrial park to clear a roughly 15-acre pad for future business development.
Capt. Jesse Kopczynski, commander of the company, said the guard began moving more than 116 pieces of heavy equipment to the site — lot 11 — on May 27. The last load of equipment arrived Thursday, he added.
The project officially began Monday.
“I have five platoons,” Kopczynski said. “Two of my platoons are support, one of them being maintenance, with over 20 personnel whose main mission is to keep this equipment operational. My other three platoons are line platoons. Two of them are my heavy equipment operators. Their main focus is to push dirt. My last platoon is to support them with the haul mission, hauling debris and hauling dirt.”
The work is known as an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) project, he said.
“This is a really good opportunity for the Virginia National Guard and for my company to get some good training, and at the same time, give back to Virginia,” Kopczynski said. “This is a lot better than going to Fort Pickett, digging a hole and then refilling it back.”
In his five years with the company, he said, the Patriot Centre project is the largest his company has undertaken.
While the grading project offers training for the National Guard, it also offers tremendous savings for Henry County, Hall said.
The county has invested $250,000 to $300,000 in engineering and design work for the grading project, Hall said, but had the county undertaken the entire project, the cost could have run over $1 million.
In a previous case, Hall said, one of the Patriot Centre lots was graded using a grant provided by the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.
“We’ve got to be creative,” Hall said. “We’ve got to create partnerships and watch our money as well as we can, and this is a perfect example of a partnership that allows us to get a finished product ... at a fraction of the cost it would have taken us overall.”
Also, Hall said, the Virginia National Guard is paying for all expenses related to its side of the project, including fuel for the more than 116 pieces of heavy equipment on site.
For the full training experience, the Virginia National Guard soldiers are camping on-site at Patriot Centre. Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) is allowing the soldiers to shower at the college.
Second Lt. Patrick Limon said the training exercise has brought the company closer together.
“It builds a camaraderie with everyone,” he said. “We’re all doing the same thing. We’re all sweating and getting dirty, and at the end of the day, we’re all still one team. ... I think it brings us closer, because it’s not just one of us, it’s all of us.”
All of the soldiers agreed that they have received a warm reception since arriving in Henry County.
“The citizens have been absolutely wonderful,” said Staff Sgt. Eric Jones. “There’s nowhere that we can go that we aren’t thanked. We appreciate the fact that they’re giving us that acknowledgment and welcoming us to their town.”
Spc. Edwin Alvarez said he has received a great reception everywhere he has gone in the county.
“I had an opportunity to interact with some very kind people at one of the local gas stations,” Alvarez said. “We were hauling some equipment and the woman at the counter wouldn’t let me pay. She just thanked me and the rest of my comrades for our service and paid for our meal as we were walking out. ... I’m happy to be here giving back to the people that appreciate us.”
Limon said the city of Martinsville gave the company a number of tickets to Thursday night’s Martinsville Mustangs game. Spc. Taylor Horn was slated to throw out the opening pitch.
“The soldiers are really excited about that,” Limon said, “just to have a little break from all this and see what else there is out there in Martinsville.”
Hall said the National Guard has been a pleasure to work with on the project.
“It’s absolutely a win-win for those guys to get training and for us to reap the benefits of what they’re doing,” he said.
“It’s a good opportunity for the soldiers,” he said, “and I think it’s a great benefit for Henry County. These soldiers really love giving back to Virginians. That’s what the main focus is here.”
Around June 16, the 180th Engineer Company will complete its portion of the training project and will turn the operation over to the Cedar Bluff-based 1033rd Engineer Support Company for another two weeks of work.